Delhi HC agrees to hear plea against pre-poll freebies

New Delhi: The Delhi High Court on Wednesday agreed to hear a plea seeking to restrain all political parties from making promises of offering freebies to people if they are voted to power.

A bench headed by Chief Justice G Rohini fixed the public interest litigation (PIL) for consideration on February 2. The plea alleged that the promise of offering freebies to people is now a common feature during elections in India.

The plea by Delhi resident Ashok Sharma has sought direction to the Election Commission of India to restrain all political parties from distributing free goods (freebies) as are being allegedly offered in the upcoming state Assembly elections in the five states, scheduled to be held in February and March.

Assembly polls are to be held in Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Uttarakhand, Goa and Manipur.

The petition has said that ECI has not taken necessary steps to stop political parties, in the upcoming Assembly elections in the five states, from distributing freebies at the expense of the government exchequer.

It said the poll panel in its recent guidelines has “nullified” the Supreme Court’s directions, which had directed the ECI to frame guidelines in consultation with all recognised parties.

The apex court in its July 2013 verdict had observed that, “although the law is obvious that promises made in an election manifesto cannot be construed as a ‘corrupt practice’ under section 123 of the Representation of the People Act, the reality is that distribution of freebies of any kind undoubtedly influences all people and it affects the level-playing field.”

Alleging that the ECI has “no desire” to comply with the apex court’s verdict, the plea has sought “quashing/modifying of ECI’s recent guidelines on election manifesto as the same is in contravention of directions under Article 142 of Constitution of India”.

The plea alleged that promise and distribution of freebies amounts to “corrupt practise” and nowadays all political parties are adopting these type of tactics for winning elections.

It said that the political parties are utilising public money for their political benefits, which vitiates free and fair elections.

The plea said the government raises funds through taxation and money can be used by the state only in discharge of public duties.